Math, architecture and the death of the straight line

gangSomewhere between working out of Frank Gehry’s LA office a few years ago and a recent meeting at the Studio Gang office in Chicago it hit me… straight lines are over-rated.

Shackles forcing us to think in retilinear patterns no longer exist.

The seed of this point was planted in my brain a decade or so ago when I started paying attention to structures like the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Sure the outside looks like a flowing wave or ice-cream cone but what caught my eye was the internal structure. I remember getting a tour by the structural engineering team. They spent an ample amount of time pointing to the flowing structural elements; the CNC-modeled steel and wood beams were unlike any I’d seen.

And this brings me to math.

The simple truth is that we used straight lines because we had do.

Today we have access to math-driven 3D modeling software.

This subject, modern flowing architectural lines, is now part of the mainstream. The Beijing Olympics thrust the Herzog & de Meuron Birdsnest into pop culture. It’s an amazing architectural and engineering feat… somewhat taken for granted since it was part of a pop-culture event like the Olympics. It’s stunning on multiple levels, brought to you by applied mathematics.

In the grander scheme this is simply just another disruptive advancement. Like Eli Whitney shifting markets by introducing assembly-line mass production or like Netscape’s consumer web app enabling billions to shift their entire life experience into a new paradigm… 3D modeling software (and related advancements in structural engineering tools) are seriously challenging the age-old limitation of a straight line.

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